GEARHART — After months of debate and nearly five years of discussion, voters on Tuesday decisively rejected a ballot measure that would have repealed Gearhart’s vacation rental rules.
The measure was failing 77 percent to 23 percent with most votes counted.
“I am just ecstatic,” Jeanne Mark, an opponent of the measure, said. “This definitely tells me where the town is and what they want. We made it happen.”
Mark, along with more than 100 other residents who campaigned against the repeal, filled a room at McMenamins Gearhart Hotel and shared their moment of victory.
“All of us did this together,” Mayor Matt Brown said. “This was a true grassroots movement like nothing I’ve ever seen. I think this was really the epitome of the community coming together to fight for what I think is right: a sustainable, residential Gearhart.”
City Councilor Sue Lorain was also happy. “This vote means we will continue to have our residential feel. It is a win — and it is a win for all of Gearhart for trusting their local officials.”
As of Oct. 1, 81 vacation rental permits have been issued under the ordinance enacted last fall, 57 of which are complete and processed, according to the city administrator.
The ballot measure would have changed limits on permit transfers and maximum occupancy and repealed special regulations imposed on vacation rentals. The rules cover off-street parking, residential appearance, garbage service, septic sewer capacity inspections and cesspool prohibitions.
The measure would have also eliminated a requirement that a 24-hour representative be able to physically respond to the site within 30 minutes and removed a limitation on the number of vacation rentals.
A public vote would have been required for any future amendments to the vacation rental ordinance or any subsequent ordinance relating to vacation rentals.
“Fear is a powerful force,” David Townsend, a repeal supporter, said. “Gearhart has chosen its path … only time will tell.”
Road to regulation
The trail to Measure 4-188 began in 2013, when city leaders and residents sought to improve the stock of long-term rental housing amid concerns about how vacation rentals in residential zones can negatively affect the city’s atmosphere and livability.
At the time, the taxing ordinance for short-term rental properties provided exemptions for the approximately 50 single-family homes rented out under the city’s guidelines.
Repeal of that tax came nearly three years later, when short-term renters were required to pay the city’s 7 percent lodging tax.
By 2016, the nature of the internet and booking trends through companies like Vacasa and Airbnb added to scrutiny of short-term rentals.
Residents in favor of regulating vacation rentals cited Gearhart’s comprehensive plan, written in 1994 and expressing the intent to recognize the importance of the city’s residential neighborhoods and the need to protect them from the negative impacts of rental property.
Complaints that out-of-town management was unable to promptly reply to public safety concerns led to an increased call for regulation, including a provision requiring 24-hour owner contact information.
In presenting Measure 4-188 to voters, opponents of regulation stressed property rights and said the rule changes go “far beyond” common-sense measures.
“It’s been a long haul and it’s been worth it,” Planning Commissioner Terry Graff, an opponent of the repeal, said after election results were delivered. “You have to thank the worker bees who worked out of their kitchens to pull this off for the city of Gearhart.”
Tuesday’s vote could lead to further discussion of the short-term rental ordinance, Lorain said. “I would like to see where we are in a year, evaluate where we are and see what we need to do to change it.”
Brown opened the door to potential changes.
“I think we should look at this law every single year,” he said. “I think we should ask what are the ways that we can improve this law for everyone in the community.”
Shall Gearhart’s vacation rental dwellings ordinance be repealed and replaced?